When you think of Jimmy Buffet, you think of fun in the sun. When you think of Margaritaville, it’s fun in the sun splashed with tequila. The question is, how do you recreate that frivolity on an East Coast stage? Cue actor Eric Petersen, whose energy, charisma and youthful enthusiasm bring the comic relief to an already fun island party. Eric’s been active on both stage and screen. He co-stars as “Brick” in the fun Broadway production of Escape To Margaritaville which opened March 15th at the Marquis Theatre. Entertainment Scoop had an exclusive lunch with Eric in the heart of New York’s Theater District at Cielo at the Mayfair, and we found that he’s just as fun in person as he is on stage.
ES: Hi Eric, congratulations on all of the positive buzz on Escape to Margaritaville. Tell us about what audiences can expect from this show and your character?
EP: Thanks Kurt, Margaritaville is really fun, and I’ve been involved with the show since the first readings in 2015. It is an original story that uses all of Jimmy Buffett’s hit songs. The show follows two guys who live and work on a shabby little island resort called Margaritaville. They meet, love, and leave female tourists each week as they glide through life until 2 special ladies come to the island and change their hearts forever. I play Brick the bartender, who is best friends with Tully (the singer at the bar). Brick is very loyal, very happy go lucky, and not the smartest bulb in the box. I love playing the character because he is such a good guy. I think he’s very funny, and the audience seems to respond quite favorably to him. The show is so fun, lively, silly, and the audiences have been having a great time each night with us.
ES: You also starred in the Broadway run of School of Rock. How do you prepare differently for each role? Any superstitious routines?
EP: The way I always approach a character is to see the similarities between the character and myself. I truly believe every character is a heightened part of your own personality. The next step in my process is to figure out how they physically move through space. I love finding the physicality of a character (how they walk, how they stand, how they would brush their teeth, etc). Next would be finding what I actually have to be able to do the job. Some shows, especially on Broadway, require a LOT of vocal prep or physical/dance prep. Each show’s requirements are very different. School of Rock required a lot more of me vocally and physically than Margaritaville does. Each show has its own challenges. I do have some superstitions. Hahahaha. I have a “Play Like A Champion” sign like the one the players tap at the University of Notre Dame. I always slap that as I head down to the stage before a show.
ES: You’ve worked a lot in television. TV writers Mike O’Malley (Yes, Dear) & Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl) wrote the book. Did they bring any TV sensibilities to the story and how has it been working with them?
EP: Working with Greg & Mike on Margaritaville was one of the main highlights of the whole process. I love sitcoms more than any other art form. I always have. Both those guys have such a pedigree in that art form, so working with them was a delight. I think they could tell pretty quickly that I “took” to their writing style, and we developed a shorthand as we worked together. I loved breaking down the intricacies of the setups of a joke, or how to make the blow of a joke land better. Comedy is like math to me, there is no grey area. Jokes work or don’t. I really loved working with Greg and Mike and I hope to do it again soon. I love those guys!
ES: You’ve collaborated with so many creative professionals in your career. What kind of business advice and personal advice have you received from these colleagues to keep you focused and inspired in this difficult entertainment industry?
EP: The main thing is just being easy to work with. Because this biz has so many ups and downs and challenges, people just want to work with people who are pleasant, prepared, come with ideas, and are just a joy to be around. Being able to “read the room” is another great quality to have. Having a sense of when you can have fun and when you need to buckle down and really nail something is an important skill to develop.
ES: Broadway holds such a mystique for actors and audiences. What makes working on Broadway so special?
EP: It’s a lot of things. There is the history of the theatres. You can just feel it in the audience and on stage. It’s also the magic of a live audience. Anything can, AND WILL, happen. There is always the chance of a mishap, a dropped line, a missed prop, a cell phone going off, etc. The audience and the actors feel that connection in the space and in the best cases feed off of each other. You can’t fake it on Broadway. It takes real training and chops to be able to do 8 shows a week.
ES: Is there a dream character you’d like to play on Broadway, and is there anyone you’d love to co-star with on stage someday?
EP: As Broadway actors we get asked this question a lot. There are amazing roles in the history of Musical Theatre. There are plenty I’d love to play, BUT the most honest answer is that my dream role hasn’t been written yet. I love creating new characters and working on new works. But I’m sure there is a dream role with a new character who is funny, endearing, inspiring, and changes the way all theatre is viewed from that point on which will be written for me someday.
ES: How did you get started in Acting?
EP: I was always the class clown as a kid. I used it as a defense mechanism because I was a very small kid. I didn’t start acting ’til high school. I immediately fell in love with being an actor and being a part of a tribe of actors. I then went to college for acting, and moved to NYC after college.
ES: As you pursued making a living as an actor, what survival jobs did you have to work to pay the bills?
EP: I was lucky to only work a few jobs as survival gigs as I was coming up. I worked as a reader for auditions when I first got to the city and it was the most informative thing to witness. Seeing what works and doesn’t work in the audition room helped me so much in my career. I also worked as a telemarketer for a paper company. I was basically Jim Halpert from “The Office.” Hahaha.
ES: What advice would you give to a young actor pursuing work in either theatre or television?
EP: My main piece of advice for young actors is to say YES to every opportunity when you are just starting out. Don’t be too cool for anything. Just work wherever and whenever you can. Meet as many people in the business as you can. These will be your peers on this very long journey through the entertainment business. Just be content with where you are when you are starting out. You have a long time to reach your goals. Enjoy your beginning years.
ES: What’s the most memorable experience you’ve ever had on stage?
EP: I’ve honestly had so many. First night on Broadway. First time I played Shrek on Broadway. First time playing “Dewey Finn” in School of Rock on Broadway. Opening a new Broadway show with Escape To Margaritaville. I’ve just had so many. It’s hard to narrow it down to one.
ES: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
EP: Hopefully working on an amazing project with talented creative people. It’s important to me that my family is happy, that I am proud of the work I’m doing, and that the people I work with think I’m bringing my best to work every day. Ideally, I’d be starring in a hit sitcom that is adored by millions of viewers each week; and I’d be a part of bringing happiness, laughter, and joy to America each week on television. (But that’s a little specific, hahaha.)
Find Eric on social media:
Cover Photo by: Peter Hurley
1st Image: Eric with Jimmy Buffett
2nd Image: Greg Garcia, Eric Petersen, Mike O’Malley
3rd Image: Photo by Dan Swalec